VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (15-13) will look to do something that hasn't been done in 15 years when it travels to top-seeded and ninth-ranked Queens (27-3) for the quarterfinals of the Pilot/Flying J SAC Basketball Championships.
The Eagles are looking to become the first eight seed to win a quarterfinal game since 2004. In fact, the Eagles will try to score a rare opening round upset in general.
Carson-Newman will look to become the first lower seed to advance in general since 2016 when fifth-seeded Newberry beat fourth-seeded Lenoir-Rhyne 98-90. Carson-Newman was actually the last team upset in a spot other than the four-five to make the SAC semifinals. The Eagles were a two seed in 2013 when seventh-seeded Coker triumphed 80-72 over the Eagles. All told, higher seeds are 37-7 over the last decade in the league tournament.
There have only been three eight seeds to make it out of the quarterfinal round. None of them made the SAC title game. Mars Hill beat Lenoir-Rhyne 75-72 in 2004 as the last eight seed to win a quarterfinal game. Wingate scored a 55-52 win over Presbyterian in 1997 and Elon downed Catawba 71-65 in 1996.
"At this point in the year, you don't want to try to get too cute," head men's basketball coach Chuck Benson said. "We have got to do what we do very well, and go win. Queens is a quality team. They've been unbelievable consistent this year. They won't lay down and just give you a win. We know what we have to do to win, the question is can we do that? Hopefully our guys are physically, mentally and emotionally ready to do that."
Carson-Newman has never won a South Atlantic Conference tournament game as an eight seed. The Eagles are 0-2 all-time at that seed, in fact, it's the only seed at which C-N has never won a game. The Eagles lost 111-109 to top-seeded Lenoir-Rhyne in 2009 and 74-57 to top-seeded Lincoln Memorial in 2011 in the Eagles' only two appearances in the tournament as an eight seed.
Carson-Newman hasn't beaten Queens in nine attempts, C-N's longest active losing streak to a conference foe. In that span, the Royals have rolled up a pair of 22-point wins (the largest in the series' 14-game history) and four double-digit triumphs in the last five meetings.
The Royals are winners on eight consecutive overall. That's the second-longest winning streak in the region behind Augusta's 11-game surge and the 14th-longest active streak in the country.
Queens has been helmed by presumptive South Atlantic Conference Player of the Year Shaun Willett. Willett could become the first player since Lenoir-Rhyne's Keenan Palmore in 2016 to lead the SAC in scoring and rebounding in a single season. Palmore was also named the league's player of the year when he accomplished that.
At 19.6 points per game, Willett trails Mars Hill's Ja'Shawn Brooks by four-tenths of a point per game for the league scoring title. Willett's 12.0 rebounds per game far and away lead the league and are the third most in the country.
He has 24 double-doubles this year, the most of any player in NCAA Division I, II or III.
"He's such a rugged, tough, highly-driven guy," Benson said. "Where he has taken his game this year is second to none. He was a good player last year, he is an elite player this year. Kudos to him and his commitment, we'll see if he can do this in postseason when it matters most."
Carson-Newman is one of six teams this year to hold Willett without a double-double. Willett only had 19 points and nine rebounds in a 102-88 Queens win on the Eagles' senior day.
Meanwhile, Carson-Newman's Malik Abraham (Snellville, Ga.) is on record-book watch. Abraham has 258 career threes. Abraham needs to hit one more three to catch former teammate Charles Clark (259) for second all-time in program history.
"He's arguably one of the greatest shooters to ever play here," Benson said. "Hopefully we can play long enough that he can continue to put his name in the record books. If there's ever a time for him to make a lot of shots, this is it. He's been doing it of late. But, he's just one guy, we need others to step up and play a role as well."
Furthermore, Abraham needs just three more triples to become the second player in school history with at least 90 in a year. Abraham enters the contest with 87 for the year. He needs one more to match his junior year for the second most in a single-season in school history. Ish Sanders holds the single-season record with 99.
Tipoff between the Eagles and Royals is set for 7 p.m. Pregame coverage on the Eagle Sports Network starts at 6:45 with the AEC Countdown to Tipoff on cneagles.com/live.